What conspiracy theories have in common with fiction – and why it makes them compelling stories

Philip Seargeant, The Open University

In an era dominated by “fake news” and disinformation, conspiracy theories are coming to play an increasingly influential role in modern politics. During the recent impeachment hearings in the US, for example, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill warned that “fictional narratives” pushed by Russia were undermining American security.

But what’s the difference exactly between a conspiracy theory and a legitimate news story? Does “fictional” in this sense simply mean fabricated? My ongoing research suggests there is more to it than this – something which can explain why conspiracy theories can gain such a powerful hold over the public imagination.

The narrative that Hill was referring to in her impeachment testimony is what’s known as “Crowdstrike”, a conspiracy theory named after a US cybersecurity company, that alleges it was Ukraine rather than Russia that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server in 2016, and that Ukraine, along with the Democrats, subsequently went about framing Russia for interfering in the election.

A day after Hill’s testimony the US president, Donald Trump, again trotted out precisely these same allegations in an interview with the TV show Fox & Friends. In doing so he made a string of assertions which are provably false. Reports from both the US intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller have, after all, concluded that it was Russia who actively interfered in the 2016 election, while there’s no evidence of Ukraine having any part in it.

As Hill noted, the whole Crowdstrike theory seems to be a clear “effort to legitimise an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016”.

Powerful forms of narrative

Conspiracy theories are used in disinformation campaigns in two main ways. On the one hand, the simple act of citing them can be a way of legitimising views you don’t like. For instance, the British journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s investigations into various shady tactics used by the Leave campaign in 2016 EU referendum are regularly dismissed as nothing more than conspiracies by her enemies.

But conspiracy theories are also used as counter-narratives to confuse the actual nature of events and, in doing so, push a particular ideological view of the world.


Read more: Conspiracy theories: how belief is rooted in evolution – not ignorance


It’s worth noting that all explanations operate as a type of narrative. A basic dramatic narrative has three steps to it: (1) a person embarks upon a (2) journey into a hostile environment which (3) ultimately leads to self-knowledge.

This same basic structure applies to explanations: (1) you want to discover some information; (2) you find a way of discovering it; and (3) your world is changed as a result.

But, as recent research I’ve been doing shows, there are several ways in which conspiracy theories draw directly on elements of storytelling that are found in fiction rather than factual narratives.

As in fictional narratives, all the elements in a conspiracy theory are linked through clear lines of cause and effect. There’s a reason for everything and, if that reason isn’t immediately forthcoming, it’s because it’s being purposefully hidden as part of the conspiracy. This differs from real life of course, where events often include large amounts of happenstance, inexplicable phenomena and a general murkiness and confusion.

Same story

Then there’s the way that conspiracy theories are all underpinned by the same basic archetype: what the writer Christopher Booker calls the “overcoming the monster” story. In this, a single or a small group of rebels take on the overwhelming forces of a corrupt and malevolent establishment which is threatening the wellbeing of society.

Crowdstrike slots snuggly into this formula. Corrupt forces within the political establishment (in this case the Democratic Party) are presented as betraying the will of the people – represented by the election of Trump in 2016. The ongoing impeachment process against the president therefore threatens the welfare of the US as an independent democratic nation. As the political theorist Jan-Werner Muller has noted, this type of conspiracy theory is structurally embedded in the logic of all populist movements in the way their leaders regularly argue that the will of the people can only be denied through underhand and corrupt ways.

Conspiracy theories always fixate on a very simple story which acts as a fable for their overarching worldview. They usually take an issue of real significance – such as foreign influence in domestic elections – but, in order to explain it, they latch on to one succinct story which bypasses the complexities and messiness of real-life phenomena and instead satisfies the logic of their overarching ideological narrative.

For Trump’s supporters, the Crowdstrike story feels true because it’s another example of the establishment’s great witch hunt against him. As a story, it also has a coherent logic which the expanse and messiness of the facts lack. So, in both these ways, our familiarity with the way the world is mediated via fiction helps cast doubt on the way the world actually is.The Conversation

Philip Seargeant, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Social Authentication and Teacher-Student Motivational Synergy

I am very happy to announce the publication of my 3rd book (4th if you include poetry).

This book talks about social authentication, which (following on from van Lier, 1997) is the process when a group of people all commonly engage in the process of authentication.

Here is the link to my author profile on Routledge. You can order the book from your favourite multinational evil chain or small independent bookseller.

https://www.routledge.com/authors/i18977-richard-pinner

This book is actually based on my doctoral thesis, and is in-fact an extended and much improved version of the thesis. The original thesis was 80,000 words but for the book I had 120,000 to play with. I added more detail for both Spring and Autumn semesters of the narrative, included added details about the authenticity of the speaker video rating exercise, and also in the autumn the time when we had a guest speaker visit our class. I included more analysis and data (especially on classroom dynamics) but the main new contribution is a whole new chapter featuring vignettes reflecting on the topic of teacher-student motivation from teachers around the world! Thanks to all my vignette authors for contributing!

Well, please take a look and message me if you have any questions, either through email or, preferably, engage with me on Twitter @uniliterate

Five reasons English speakers struggle to learn foreign languages

ivosar via Shutterstock
Michelle Sheehan, Anglia Ruskin University

According to a recent survey co-ordinated by the European Commission 80% of European 15-30 year olds can read and write in at least one foreign language. This number drops to only 32% amongst British 15-30 year olds.

This is not just because all European young people speak English. If we look at those who can read and write in at least three languages, the UK is still far behind. Only 8% of UK young people can do what 88% of Luxembourgish, 77% of Latvian and 62% of Maltese young people can do.

So what are the difficulties Britons face when learning other languages? Here are a few of the basics.

1. Objects have genders

One of the most difficult and bizarre things about learning languages such as French, Spanish and German – but also Portuguese, Italian, Polish, German, Hindi and Welsh – is that inanimate objects such as chairs and tables have genders, so they are masculine (he), feminine (she) or sometimes neuter (it).

There is no real logic to this – milk is masculine in French, Italian and Portuguese, but feminine in Spanish and German, but it still tastes and looks the same. In Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, gender is usually indicated by word endings (-o and -a), making it easier to learn, but sound changes in French have made genders rather opaque, and a real challenge for second language learners.

Interestingly, English used to have grammatical gender too, but this was basically lost in Chaucer’s time. There are still some remnants of it in English, though: the pronouns he/she/it__ are masculine, feminine and neuter, but he/she are now only used to talk about living things, not tables and windows (as they were in older stages of English).

Most Britons are all at sea when it comes to gendered language. Frankie’s via Shutterstock

Contrary to what you might think, languages don’t actually need gender. The gender-neutral singular pronoun they, has been much discussed of late, but many languages lack the equivalent of he/she, having only they (among them Turkish and Finnish). Other languages, notably Swahili and related languages, have many more genders – up to 18. French gender is easy by comparison.

2. Agreement is vital

Once you have memorised the fact that house is feminine and book is masculine, the next step is to make sure that all the adjectives, articles (the/a), demonstratives (this/that) and possessors (my/his) describing these words have matching gender and also indicate the difference between singular (one) or plural (more than one) ma belle maison(my beautiful house) but mon beau livre (my handsome book). Linguists call this “agreement” or “concord”, and it is very common, especially in European languages – but nonetheless quite tricky for English speakers, simply because they don’t really have it (any more).

Tower of Babel: this is where the problems all started. Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Shutterstock

Once again, English used to have this, but it has been almost completely lost. They still have a little bit of it left though: “this sheep is lonely but these sheep are not”, and we know that partly because of the word these, a “plural” demonstrative.

3. Just being polite

French has tu/vous, German has du/Sie, Spanish tu/usted, Italian tu/lei, but, in English, we just have plain old you. Linguists call this the “T-V distinction” (because of Latin tu/vos) and this politeness distinction is found in many European languages and well as in other languages (Basque, Indonesian, Mongolian, Persian, Turkish and Tagalog).

Essentially, there are two different forms of you depending on power dynamics, and every time you strike up a conversation, you need to choose the right pronoun, or risk causing offence. This poses obvious difficulty for English speakers as there are no hard-and-fast rules about when to use the formal or informal form.

In fact, usage has varied over time. In the past, pronouns were often used asymmetrically (I call you vous, but you call me tu), but western Europe increasingly uses pronouns symmetrically (If I call you tu, you can call me tu as well). In recent years, the polite forms have become less used in some western European countries (at least in Spain, Germany and France). That might mean that these languages could eventually change, but in the opposite way from English.

Thou knave: would Shakespeare feel more at home in Yorkshire? Anton_Ivanov via Shutterstock

English also had thou/you until Shakespearean times, but the informal thou was eventually lost (and retained only by some dialects, for example in Yorkshire). Thou was also the singular form, just as tu/du are – used when addressing just one person. So, when English lost thou, it also lost the difference between talking to just one or more people. Languages like to fill in gaps like these, and many dialects have created novel plural forms: y’all, you lot, you guys, youse.

What’s interesting is that these forms are often themselves regulated by politeness. So, many people would use you with parents, you guys with friends and you lot with kids. When it comes to language, politeness is always there but, in some languages, it is a little more in your face. Once again, French, Spanish and German are not actually that complex in making a simple two-way distinction. They are nothing compared to languages like Japanese, which have bamboozingly difficult “honorific” systems.

4. Keeping track of case

Where German has der/die/des/dem/den/das, English has only the – and this poses considerable challenges for English speakers learning German. So why does German have all these different ways of saying the? This is the German case system which spells out the article the differently depending not only on whether it is singular or plural (see above), but on its function in a sentence (subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor).

English has case too actually, but only with pronouns. “I love him”, does not (alas) mean the same thing as “he loves me”. It’s not only the word order that’s different. I/he are the subject (nominative) forms and him/me the object (accusative) forms. They are also different from my/his, which are the possessive (genitive) forms. Once again, English used to be like German but it has lost most of its case system.

Some Indigenous Australian languages use different grammatical cases, unlike English. Millenius via Shutterstock

Articles, demonstrative and adjectives all inflected for case in Old English, so English speakers a few hundred years ago would have found German pretty simple. German is not alone in having case. Many European languages have case and it is also found in many unrelated languages (among them Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Dyirbal and many native Australian languages). In a sense, case gives us another way of keeping track of who is doing what to who. English speakers use word order for this function, but this is by no means the only option.

5. A matter of mood

This takes us to our final challenge, verbal inflection. Where English regular verbs have just four verb forms jump/jumps/jumping/jumped (which can combine with auxiliary verbs in certain ways as in “I have been jumping”), Spanish has a hefty 51 (I won’t list them all here). So Spanish (like Italian and German and to some extent French) is a richly inflecting language.

Verbs in Spanish (Italian, and French) change depending on tense (as in English), but also depending on aspect (the duration of an event), mood (the nature of the event) and person/number (the kind of subject they have).

This poses notorious problems for English speakers, especially when it comes to mood. The dreaded subjunctive indicates that something is not being asserted as true and this turns out to be difficult to learn when that is not an important distinction in your own language.

Once again, though, English itself used to be more like Spanish, French, Italian and German in this respect. Old English verbs also inflected for tense, person/number and mood. In fact the subjunctive remains an option for many speakers in examples such as: “I wish I were (or was) you” and: “It is vital that you be (or are) on time.”

Once again, then, English speakers a few hundred years ago would probably have been better linguists than Britons are now, as their language still had many of the features which pose difficulties for modern-English-speaking language students. Somehow I think it’s not really grammar that’s holding Britons back, though. With language, where there’s a will, there is always a way. The 2% of Britons who can read and write in more than three languages show that that’s true.The Conversation

Michelle Sheehan, Reader in Linguistics Course Leader, BA (Hons) English Language, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

AILA

Call for Papers

Practitioner Research & Classroom Dynamics: Emic Insights Through a Small Lens

Organisers: Richard Pinner and Sal Consoli

  • AILA 2020 World Congress
  • 09-14 August | Groningen, NL
  • Deadline : 16th September 2019
  • Notification: 18 November 2019
  • Symposium ID: S116

This symposium brings together teachers engaged in research, who can offer valuable insights into their own practices and provide a more nuanced and contextually specific cross-section into their classrooms utilising various methods suited to practitioner-research. These include action research, exploratory practice, evidence-based reflexive practice, and autoethnography.

Download the PDF flyer

Ushioda’s ‘small lens’ approach to researching classroom phenomena was originally intended to focus on motivation with a ‘more sharply focused or contextualised angle of inquiry’ (2016: 566). This can be achieved by utilising various established and emerging practitioner-based research methodologies which utilise a methodical and evidence-based design in order to gain emic insights into the language learning classroom. In this symposium, researchers will utilise a small lens approach to examine a range of psychological and social factors relating to classroom dynamics focusing on both learners and teachers, such as emotions, identity, motivation, autonomy, values and beliefs.

Research done by practitioning teachers is strongly advocated in the literature on complexity paradigm approaches, both within education (Davis and Sumara, 2006) and SLA (Larson-Freeman and Cameron, 2008). As the field of applied linguistics is reshaped by a tendency toward more situated and complexity-informed ways of understanding, insights from practitioner research are also gaining traction. The complex social dynamics that emerge inside specific classrooms are still rare and under-reported within applied linguistics, and this symposium aims to provide a springboard to learn from more emic perspectives from inside language learning classrooms.

 https://www.aila2020.nl/call-for-papers |Submit Here

email  rpinner[at]sophia.ac.jp for enquiries

Featured Speaker: Richard Sampson

Richard Sampson is an authority on classroom-based practitioner research and complexity thinking. His research has focused on motivation and emotions in the language classroom. His work has featured in journals such as System and Language Teaching Research and he is the author of a monograph dealing with motivation and complexity, as well as currently co-editing a volume on complexity research methods.

References

Davis, A. B., & Sumara, D. J. (2006). Complexity and education: inquiries into learning, teaching and research. London: Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ushioda, E. (2016). Language learning motivation through a small lens: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 49(4), 564-577. doi:10.1017/S0261444816000173

Risking authenticity: Energy Return on Investment in Language Teaching

Screen Poster presented at the BAAL 2018 conference, York St John’s University, UK|
British Association of Applied Linguists

Abstract
Studies repeatedly show one of the most crucial factors affecting student motivation is the teacher. Teacher and student motivation is both positively or negatively synergistic, implying that to motivate students, teachers must also be motivated themselves. This paper presents an exploration of this relationship through a narrative of evidence-based practitioner reflection on teaching at a Japanese university. Field-notes, journals, class-observations and recordings were employed as data for deeper reflection by the teacher/researcher, triangulated with data from students, including short interviews, classwork and assignments. Approaching authenticity as either a bridge or a gap between positive teacher-student motivational synergy, this paper provides a practitioner’s account to examine the social dynamics of the language classroom. Core beliefs were found to be crucial in maintaining a positive motivational relationship. Motivation will be approached from an ecological perspective; that is looking at the connections between people and their environment, incorporating the natural peaks and troughs of the emotional landscape of the classroom and situating that within wider social context. Particular emphasis is placed on the concept of authenticity as the sense of congruence between action and belief, and the way that teachers construct their approach according to a philosophy of practice. I posit that authenticity can either work as a gap or a bridge between positive student-teacher motivation. In other words, when students and teachers both share an appreciation of the value of classroom activity, the learning is authentic. This presentation reflects on these complex issues and begins exploring them in context. This paper attempts to be as practical as possible by sharing lived professional experiences from the classroom. Samples of students’ work will be shown that indicate their level of engagement in class, with a discussion of strategies employed to help them maintain motivation, such as reflection and tasks involving metacognitive strategies.

Pinner2018BALL_EROIScreenposter

The 1st J-CLIL Annual Bilingual Conference: CLIL pedagogy for multilingual and multicultural contexts

Authenticity and motivation in soft CLIL

2018 J-CLILPinner_authenticity

Short Abstract

This talk discusses materials in CLIL, specifically looking at the issue of authenticity, which is often a defining aspect of the CLIL approach. Authenticity connects to motivation, again providing a central justification to CLIL implementation and practise. The talk examines problems related to authenticity in CLIL materials, and suggests practical solutions.

Abstract

This talk examines the difficult issue of materials in CLIL. Textbooks grounded in CLIL approaches pose a dilemma for publishers, as they necessitate content-specific, context-specific and learner-specific material. This is at odds with many international publishers’ business models, which tend to favour generic course books which can sell widely across different cultural, linguistic and educational markets. Yet, due to the importance of CLIL as a ‘brand name’, many FL course books have incorporated superficial elements of CLIL into their pages which fail to promote meaningful forms of weak bilingual education. This is potentially damaging to the image of CLIL approaches, as it represents a watering-down of the core approach. Branding FL materials as CLIL could see a weakening of one of the central arguments and defining features of CLIL; namely authenticity. It has been argued that authenticity is ‘intrinsic to CLIL’ and as such provides the main argument as to why CLIL is potentially more motivating (and thus more likely to yield successful learning outcomes) than other, more traditional, foreign language teaching approaches. In this talk I will outline these issues and provide practical examples along with suggestions for practitioners seeking praxis between the theoretical underpinnings of CLIL and actual classroom practice.

 

References from the talk

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Revised ed.). London: Verso.

Banegas, D. L. (2013). The integration of content and language as a driving force in the EFL lesson. In E. Ushioda (Ed.), International perspectives on motivation (pp. 82-97). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Banegas, D. L. (2014). An investigation into CLIL-related sections of EFL coursebooks: issues of CLIL inclusion in the publishing market. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17(3), 345-359. doi:10.1080/13670050.2013.793651

Banegas, D. L., Pavese, A., Velázquez, A., & Vélez, S. M. (2013). Teacher professional development through collaborative action research: impact on foreign English-language teaching and learning. Educational Action Research, 21(2), 185-201. doi:10.1080/09650792.2013.789717

Dalton-Puffer, C., Llinares, A., Lorenzo, F., & Nikula, T. (2014). “You Can Stand Under My Umbrella”: Immersion, CLIL and Bilingual Education. A Response to Cenoz, Genesee & Gorter (2013). Applied Linguistics, 35(2), 213-218. doi:10.1093/applin/amu010

Doiz, A., Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M. (2014a). CLIL and motivation: the effect of individual and contextual variables. The Language Learning Journal, 42(2), 209-224. doi:10.1080/09571736.2014.889508

Doiz, A., Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M. (2014b). Giving voice to the students: what (de)motivates them in classes? In D. Lasagabaster, A. Doiz, & J. M. Sierra (Eds.), Motivation and foreign language learning: From theory to practice (Vol. 40, pp. 117-138). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next : why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Ikeda, M. (2016). CLIL活用の新コンセプトと新ツール [CLIL’s utilization of new tools and concepts]. In M. Ikeda, Y. Watanabe, & S. Izumi (Eds.), CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education at Sophia University (Vol. 3: Lessons and Materials, pp. 1-29). Tokyo: Sophia University Press.

Lasagabaster, D., Doiz, A., & Sierra, J. M. (Eds.). (2014). Motivation and foreign language learning: From theory to practice (Vol. 40). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Lorenzo, F. (2014). Motivation meets bilingual models: goal-oriented behaviour in the CLIL classroom. In D. Lasagabaster, A. Doiz, & J. M. Sierra (Eds.), Motivation and foreign language learning: From theory to practice (Vol. 40, pp. 139-155). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pinner, R. S. (2013a). Authenticity and CLIL: Examining authenticity from an international CLIL perspective. International CLIL Research Journal, 2(1), 44 – 54.

Pinner, R. S. (2013b). Authenticity of Purpose: CLIL as a way to bring meaning and motivation into EFL contexts. Asian EFL Journal, 15(4), 138 – 159.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2016). Language learning motivation through a small lens: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 49(4), 564-577. doi:10.1017/S0261444816000173

Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students

To those who attended the 2017 workshop entitles Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Student 「学習意欲を高めるオーセンティック教材の活用法」, the main site page for this workshop is located at http://uniliterate.com/training/workshops/authenticity-workshop/#.WYwT6YiGPIU

You can download all the handouts of the materials, as well as the slides and other documents from the link below at learn.uniliterate.com. This is an online extension of the course, and allows you to post comments and continue the discussion with other participants.

You can access an online version of this course here. You can access the course as a guest, but you will need the password – Authenticity4649

If you would like permanent access to the course, please email me!

It was a wonderful experience to work with you all, and thank you again for taking the workshop and I sincerely hope it was both authentic and motivating for you as well!

The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Part 1: The Future of English Motivation in a Global World

The International Symposium held at the University of Toyama on February 19th 2017 was an event which brought together not only many prestigious speakers, but also attendees whose own research has made a valuable contribution to the area. As such, the conference was both accessible and yet well-informed and insightful, with many lively and active discussions both during and between sessions.

In particular, the morning session saw a special seminar with Ema Ushioda, entitled The Future of English Motivation in a Global World, in which she talked through many of the issues that are addressed in a forthcoming issue of the Modern Language Journal, co-edited by Ema and Zoltan Dornyei and due to be published in 2017: 101(3). In particular, this special issue looks at the motivation to learn languages other than English. Ema’s special seminar sought to examine the role of English in a multilingual world, which began by drawing and expanding on Graddol’s book English Next (2006). Graddol talks about the ‘new orthodoxy’ of English, which implies the disappearance of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as English becomes more and more a ‘life skill’. Instead of EFL, English instruction will become more integrated into educational systems around the world, particularly in the form of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). English becomes part of the curriculum, not as a foreign language but as a method of instruction in and of itself. In other words, the ‘new orthodoxy’. Graddol’s book is well-known now, having been published just over ten years ago, and already there is much evidence that his predictions are coming to light. However, (as Ema says, there is always a ‘but’), there is also a very visible multilingual turn in Applied Linguistics, which perhaps rode on the waves of the social turn. In other words, a move away from psycholinguistic, cognitive and monolingual approaches to language. Much of early Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research focused on what has often been termed the ‘deficit’ view of L2 learning. Such a view posits that our L2 will never be as good as our L1, and thus implies that L1 users are ‘better’, which leads to the adoption of native-like norms for setting the ‘standard’. Such a view has been criticised in many different ways, not only because the reality of a native-speaker is based on a myth (Davies, 2003), but also because it leads to a range of practices within ELT that disadvantage the majority of English speaker/users in the world (Braine, 2010; Holliday, 2005; Lowe & Pinner, 2016; Medgyes, 1994; Reves & Medgyes, 1994; Swann, Aboshiha, & Holliday, 2015).

Ema also discussed the fact that the mounting pressure to learn English has actually been shown to damage the motivation to learn other languages (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). This is deeply entwined with an ‘instrumentalist view’ of language education. In other words, we learn English for the purposes of acquiring greater access to social and cultural capital. We need it, want it, know it will make our lives better. And yet, as this places great pressure on us to learn the language, it de-emphasises other languages and ‘non-standard’ varieties, and it may also inhibit personal autonomy to learn English. At this point in her seminar, I wanted to raise my hand and tell Ema that you could almost say that English becomes a ‘disembodied language’, a point I have often made when examining the idea of Global English in relation to authenticity (Pinner, 2016). In fact, in her talk Ema was mainly talking about motivation and autonomy, yet for me I felt there was a great deal of overlap here with the concept of authenticity as well. As I have discussed in my doctoral research, authenticity, autonomy and motivation seem to form a dynamic triad (Pinner, 2017). Of course, Ema knows all about this, as she is my supervisor, but her talk was already very ‘meta’ and mapping the complexities and intricacies of the global position of English as a ‘world auxiliary language’ (Lo Bianco, 2014) to her own, much more personal, individual and contextually-based approach to motivation and autonomy (Ushioda, 2011a, 2011b, 2015, 2016).

Ema pointed out that such an instrumentalist view of learning is not, in fact, unique to languages but a worrying trend that can be seen throughout education. Ema talked about the new Teaching Excellence Review to be put in place in the UK next year, in which one of the assessment criteria are graduate employment rates. This highlights the fact that education is often seen as a means to an end; there is a utilitarian focus which downplays the humanitarian role of education. Fostering individuals with the capacity for critical thought is not the role of education as the government (and hence many institutions reliant on funding) see it. However, this view is more likely to be held by those who work as teachers. In other words, Ema’s special seminar highlighted the global dynamics, mixed-messages and socio-political agendas around English language education. She drew heavily on Lo Bianco (2014) notion of ‘domesticating the foreign’ to show how local and global policies entwine in the language classroom.

Fundamentally, Ema’s main point was that reaching native-like proficiency was not a realistic or meaningful goal for many learners in global contexts. The affordance of English for gaining social capital is important, but similarly with the world moving more toward super-diversity, English educational models would be better served if they were to highlight a multiple competencies approach to learning. Another aspect is that learning should be made personally meaningful, and people should learn to speak as themselves.

Although I fundamentally agree that the native-speaker model is a serious problem for English language instruction and that it has led to the disadvantaging of the majority of English speakers, it may also lead to other forms of discrimination as a result of the entangled ideologies at work in the world. In many ways, it boils down to social and cultural capital. People make judgements about us based on how we speak; and thus it may be disadvantageous for students to focus on learning English that could be seen as deviant, especially if this makes them hard to comprehend. This argument has been made many times; it is the crux of the Kachru-Quirk argument, and also the central justifications between Jenkins’ Lingua Franca core (2000). Also, the issue of language tests (which are based on ‘standard’ notions of the language) are another obstacle.

However, I don’t think that Ema was advocating that we encourage learners to speak in a way which is incomprehensible (although this argument was voiced during the Q&A). I think rather that Ema was promoting the same idea that she put forward in her persons-in-context relational view of motivation (Ushioda, 2009), which resonates with van Lier (1996) call for awareness, autonomy and authenticity as part of the interactions in the language classroom, both of which imply sociocultural approaches to learning and ecological perspectives to language. The key is that a person does not need perfect English, and it is important for students to have realistic goals about themselves and the levels of proficiency they actually need. This has been discussed in very interesting studies by Matsuda (2011) and Kubota (2013), both of whom found that Japanese learners might do well to assess their own goals in relation to what they need to achieve with the language, rather than aspiring to be simply ‘like native speakers’.

Overall, the talk was fascinating and gave me a lot of food for thought. In the next post, I will discuss Ema’s Keynote speech which discussed whether teachers should see themselves as motivators.

 

References

Braine, G. (2010). Nonnative Speaker English Teachers: Research, Pedagogy, and Professional Growth. London: Routledge.

Davies, A. (2003). The Native Speaker: Myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching: Motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next : why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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International Symposium on Language, Autonomy and Motivation in Toyama

The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Dr Ema Ushioda will be in Toyama, Japan in February giving a keynote speech on motivation and autonomy. Other plenaries include Lorna Carson, Yoshiyuki Nakata and Luxin Yang.

The free event takes place at Toyama University, Sunday 19th February 2017.